Robert, the green grocer, brushes away my curtness like flicking crumbs from his stainless steel fruit scales. I’ll say something tinny and mean while he counts out my change to the last cent because he believes I try to have the same fifty-four cent total every week. Robert used to ask me a lot about my life, like when my family comes or if I liked the cold. I told him, I did. He frowned and put a roll of receipt paper in the cash register. I don’t like to think about Robert so I don’t. My sister would say that is silly, she would say it’s the same as when my snake died and I didn’t want to talk about it. To be honest I was glad it died; I didn’t like its perfect, muscular body and calculating eyes or the way it opened its invisible jaws and swallowed its food while continuously looking at me. Though I did like that Tish was scared of it. I sometimes wonder if Robert thinks of me.
Tish’s family doesn’t like visiting me. It’s a long train ride into central Alaska and she wants to take her children to fancy places in Europe to drink exotic coffee and wear nice leather shoes. Not to their aunt who lives in the cold and has only one spare bed. But that’s all right. Tish also likes those overpriced colorful rain coats and purebred dogs. I don’t really think of her. Tish probably wonders how I live this way. There are people like that here as well. People who live on the train and go south for the winter like birds. But I stay, like those frogs that succumb to the cold and freeze. Alive, just frozen. Even their blood turns to ice in their veins.
I had a dream once, where I woke up and the world was completely frozen. Everything glazed dusty and white, as if my fogged window panes wrapped themselves around my eyes. I could see smoke frozen mid spiral, like a broken dancer or a dried moth kept in a butterfly collection. I am frozen too, in the position leaning into my pillow. “I must have frozen early on” I thought in my dream, because I didn’t feel the strain of never reaching my bed. I knew inside me that if I could just say something I could unfreeze the world. Once I knew that it seemed as if all the muscles in my body culminated in my tongue. With my hands I could taste the frozen sheets mid fold and my feet tasted the coldness of the wooden floor whose grooves glistened like potholes. And with the word on the tip of my tongue I threw it, expecting to hear the resounding echo that came back with the continuing breath of the world, like a great, big machine ending a yawn. But nothing happened. The word had waited too long on the tip of my tongue and froze too. I don’t remember the word but I knew that soon I would freeze, just like those frogs.
That night I walked downstairs in my winter parka. I drank a glass of ice water to prove I was strong. But then, I passed the long wall mirror and stopped. I felt very cold. I saw the woman who failed to shatter the silence and to ignite the world. I saw a woman who was along and shivering in the dark. One who wouldn’t know if it was twelve at night or seven in the morning. I saw the slivers of silver, the tips of my nails, the corners of my eyes, the small sagging finger print above my ever pursed lip, all icy and still. And I looked at my skinny ankles and worn feet, and in the mirror I felt the ice in my stomach grow strong. And as I leant, I felt a small bone in my ankle make a snap and felt the chill of the night.
For the first time in fifteen years I found myself waiting for morning. I let the sound of my alarm clock was over me, like the crunching of faraway twigs. I looked outside and realized it looked like night, and it always had. I never felt the morning the way I pretended too. And when the sun came up at twelve in the afternoon I felt old and wrinkled as if I had been lying in a bath too long. I was sad, like when I see people get mail or watch a train arrive and there’s a man looking at every person until he sees a woman get off and he smiles. Like when I look at the picture of Robert’s niece, who smiles from behind a large wooden bear.
I thought about what Robert would think if I told him my dream. I imagined walking in through the door. It clangs and whistles with odd little trinkets that hang from an exposed screw. He’s behind the counter organizing tea bags. And then I’ll tell him that I dreamt the world froze. And he might stop putting away tea bags. Maybe waking up to a frozen world was normal. I would bring him the bananas I wanted to buy and he would take the stickers off and put the bananas in my bag maybe reassuring me about my dream and reminding me that the fruit needs time to ripen. Then I would leave to the rattling of a plastic castanet banging against a broken wind chime.
That morning when I went to get my groceries I felt like I was invading a dream, that I would walk in to find myself conversing with Robert over bananas and tea bags. But he was reading the paper. And When I bring him the groceries he says:
“Your change if fifty-four cents” while counting out the pennies on his fingers. And then he says,
“You should button up. There’s a cold coming.” And to his surprise I said:
“Thanks, I think I will.” And I did as the opening gust of wind from the door blew. I felt it rattle my skull, and I shivered.
Age 14, Grade 9
Hunter College High School